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How Your Sugar Addiction Is Slowly Killing Your Brain

sugar in the bowl

If you thought watching your weight was the only good reason to ditch those donuts, think again. Glucose is actually the human brain’s main fuel source and is not harmful in moderate amounts but what happens when the brain has to deal with the more than 150 pounds a year of added sugar that the average person now consumes, per capita? From slowed down mental processes to increased risks of dementia, here’s the bitter truth about excessive sugar’s effects:

Sets Off an Addictive Cycle

If you’ve ever had a hard time eating only one scoop of ice cream, you already know just how difficult it can be to limit sugar intake. Studies show that this may have more to do with sugar’s effects on your brain than a lack of willpower. Sugar takes over your brain’s reward system, flooding it with pleasure hormones like dopamine and making it tough to resist another bite or sip of the sweet stuff. But while the occasional sugar rush is nothing to worry about, frequently activating your brain’s reward system with sugar can lead to serious problems like powerful cravings and a full-blown sugar addiction.

Slows Your Brain’s Ability to Learn

A UCLA study carried out on rats showed that those fed a high-sugar diet struggled to learn and remember paths to escape a maze. Researchers found that the brain cells of fructose-fed rats had trouble passing signals, leaving the rats unable to think clearly or find escape paths they’d already learned about. According to the study’s authors, this may be because the rats’ high-sugar diets led to insulin resistance and disturbed thought processes.  

Shrinks Your Brain Volume

Regularly eating large amounts of sugar could actually put you in danger of shrinking brain cells. A high-sugar diet that includes sugar-sweetened beverages, like soda, has been linked to a reduction in both blood flow to the brain and actual brain volume. Consuming a lot of sugar may also raise levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that has been associated with brain volume shrinkage and disruption of brain cell activity

Reduces Your Hippocampus

According to a study published in Neurology, high levels of blood glucose have been linked to having a smaller hippocampus. The hippocampus is an area of the brain that is important for memory so it’s not surprising that the study also found that those with higher blood glucose levels did worse on memory tests.  

Raises Your Risk of Developing Dementia

Even scarier than high blood sugar’s ability to mess with everyday memory is its link to long term memory loss. It was previously thought that only diabetes was associated with dementia but a study published in The New England Journal Of Medicine found that even high blood sugar levels lower than the diabetic range were enough to increase the risk of developing any kind of dementia. And other research finds that diabetic-range high blood sugar can mean a 39% higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease. 

Linked to Depression

Although many of us turn to sweets to deal with stress, they could actually make matters worse. That’s because sugary snacks cause your blood sugar levels to rise sharply and then drop. This sudden “sugar crash” can leave you feeling nervous or depressed. Reaching for sugar too often can also lead to a chronically inflamed brain, another suspected cause of anxiety and depression.

While enjoying a square of chocolate every so often isn’t something you should worry about it, there are some very real risks to a constant high–sugar diet. Cutting down your average daily dose of the sweet stuff to the recommended 6-10 teaspoons could help protect your brain in the short and long term. With everything from avoiding anxiety to preventing Alzheimer’s on the line, this list proves that when it comes to sugar, less really is more.

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